Who’s leading the county?

By Susan Gibbs

Here’s the situation: Three members of the Greene County Board of Supervisors took their seats, for the first time, at the beginning of last year.

The county administrator resigned last fall. The superintendent of schools turned in his resignation last month. There are two vacancies, due to recent resignations, on the Greene County Planning Commission, and at least three, for the same reason, on the Greene County Economic Development Authority. There are also vacancies on the county’s Jefferson Area Board for Aging Advisory Council and its Piedmont Workforce Network Board.

This, at a time when the state has been cutting public education funding, sending schools to localities to make up for shortfalls.

Virginia has in fact cut said funding by $1.4 billion through changes in the Standards of Quality funding formula since the 2008 General Assembly, according to a report published recently by the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

According to that report, Virginia is required to pay 55 percent of the overall cost of the SOQS and local school districts must pay the rest. But the SOQs allow legislators to claim they fund 55 percent of the state’s educational mandates, while in reality they pay about 40 percent; e the localities pay about 50 percent and about 10 percent comes from the federal government.

Here in Greene, the county is currently picking up about a third of the public school district’s budget, and this year, it has really hit home: the school board is likely to make cuts and, with real estate assessments down, the county is likely to raise taxes.

Other costs are looming: the state is considering asking localities to take over maintenance of more secondary roads; the county’s rescue squad needs a new building; fire departments need equipment; the jail expansion needs to be paid for, and the list goes on.

We are burdened with a current water debt, including principal and interest, of more than $30 million and the county has all but committed to another $40 million to finance a reservoir intended to lure industries and businesses to Greene.

But here’s the rub: the county intended to pay its debt on the water treatment plant in Ruckersville that went into operation in 2006 via hookup fees. At that time, the county was sitting pretty. Developers were flocking to the area, looking to capitalize on the northern expansion of up Route 29 from Albemarle, and the county was looking to capitalize on developers.

It charges $20,000 for each new residence to hookup to water-sewer service, and about $200,000 for each new commercial establishment to hookup – more than any other locality in the region.

But then came the recession, and while taxpayers are left holding the bag, county leaders are jumping ship.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Jim Frydl

This, after the Thomas Jefferson Partnership for Economic Development released its Comprehensive Target Markets Report only last September.

According to the report, for which data was compiled through 2011, Greene’s economy is comprised primarily of eight groups, which represent 45.2 percent of all jobs in the county.

The largest here is Business & Financial Services, which is made up mostly of real estate-related businesses and professional and technical services. Other industries, in order of size, are:  Energy; Defense & Security; Information Technology & Telecommunications;   Health Services, which is dominated by nursing care facilities; Agribusiness, Food Processing & Technology; Arts, Entertainment Recreation & Visitor Industries; and Printing & Publishing.

But remember, last year the Bank of America pulled out of Stanardsville, and the building it occupied is still vacant. And Video Gaming Technologies – listed on the Virginia Employment Commission’s Web site as the county’s third largest employer — is on its way out.

According to the Virginia Employment Commission’s Information Services Division, as of January 22, Greene County’s largest employer is, not surprisingly, the Greene County School Board.

Wal-Mart is second on the Division’s list of 50 largest employers in the county; Video Gaming Technologies Inc. is still listed as the third, and the County of Greene as the fourth. Lowe’s Home Centers is number five, followed by Sunland Employee Leasing LLC in the number six slot and the Blue Ridge School in slot number seven. McDonalds is number eight, Food Lion is number nine and A. Goff Limo.com is number 10. The Greene Hills Club comes next, at number 11, and the list goes on, with, for example, Sheetz at number 19 and Region Ten Community Services at number 35. Number 46 is Capitol Sheds, and number 50 is Sage Dining Service.

When are all those markets targeted by TJPED going to arrive in county? And who – and what — is going to bring them here?

Back before the recession struck the county had (apparently) assumed that its location would be enough, and offered no incentives for businesses to locate here.

This, with no broadband service to speak of, and the highest tap fees around.

Vice-chairman of the Board of Supervisors Davis Lamb

To make matters worse, early last month the Virginia Coalition for Open Government released the results of a transparency survey that looked at how all 134 counties and independent cities across the Commonwealth compare when it comes to finding out how taxpayer money is being spent.

The criteria for grading ( from A+ all the way down to an F) included how easy it is to find the budget on the Web sites, how easy it is to read those budgets, and whether people can make comments. Twenty-six of those 134 localities received an F grade, and Greene was among them.

Greene County failed because it was so difficult just to get to the data that citizens were left with virtually no online access to a picture of their locality’s fiscal presence.

Eye on Greene would like to know more about what’s happening in the county. On Friday, as a matter of procedure, Freedom of Information Act requests were sent to: the county finance director, asking for a copy of the Greene County Budget for 2012-2013 including all line items; the school superintendent, asking for a copy of the Greene County Public School District Budget for 2012-2013, including all line items; and the Director of Economic Development, asking for a copy of the Greene County Economic Development Authority Budget for 2012-2013, including all line items. We also asked that department if the county is focusing its efforts more on the development of tourism than it is on other areas of economic development, and, in what other areas of economic development efforts are being made.

A request for a copy of the Greene County Parks & Recreation Budget for 2012-2013, including all line items was also sent to the director of that department, as Eye on Greene believes recreation facilities are important to economic development.

In the weeks to come, we will be asking for even more information.

Copies of all requests, as a matter of courtesy, were sent to the acting county administrator, as well as to the chairman of the Greene County Board of Supervisors.

Eye on Greene requested a waiver of all fees for all requests as disclosure of the information is in the public interest because it is likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations or activities of the government and is not primarily in our commercial interest.

Legally, addressees have 20 working days to comply with the requests, but the public school district complied the same day – actually, within an hour, and at no charge.

At the time this story was posted, no other responses or acknowledgments had been received.

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Editor’s note: For more information on state shortfalls, visit: times dispatch story on schools: http://www.politifact.com/virginia/statements/2012/feb/07/kitty-boitnott/kitty-boitnott-says-virginia-has-cut-16-billion-mi/.  For more information on the Virginia Employment Commission’s community profile of Greene visit http://virginialmi.com/report_center/community_profiles/5104000079.pdf. For more information on the TJPED target markets report visit http://www.tjped.com/images/uploads/Target_Markets_Report.pdf, and, for more information on the results of the transparency survey, visit http://ftpcontent.worldnow.com/wvir/documents/HowManyClicks.pdf.

Posted in: Editorials

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